Businesses around the shores of Loch Ness are gearing up for an off-season economic boost on the back of a major cycling event.
Etape Loch Ness will draw in visitors before the area’s peak tourist trade and will help put the Highland region on the map, say a range of businesses along the route.
The cycle sportive, which is now in its second year, takes place on Sunday, April 26 with over 3,000 cyclists from all over the UK making their way around a 66-mile route on closed roads.
Event organisers have worked closely with Uniqueness - the tourism BID (business improvement district) group - to highlight what the local area has to offer both day trippers and those staying for the whole weekend.
Local businesses have been quick off the mark to maximise the benefits of the off-peak influx of visitors by offering deals on accommodation, attractions, activities and eateries for riders, their family and friends.
Morag Cameron is already seeing a steady stream of cyclists who are preparing for the challenge at her tea room and farm shop at Foyers.
Morag says, “I have a lot of cyclists and cycle clubs doing a recce of the route, with regulars on Saturdays and Sundays.
“On the day of the sportive, the cyclists come through very early in the morning before most businesses have opened, but there has been a push to get cyclists coming to the area to stay longer.
“If people do stay longer, they will be able to do things either side of the cycle event and that will be a positive thing and bring benefits. The Etape also generates fantastic publicity for this area.”
Neil Beattie, manager of the Lovat Hotel at Fort Augustus, has given the Etape Loch Ness the ultimate endorsement – by signing up to take part.
As a keen cyclist, he appreciates the appeal of riding the roads around the iconic loch without the distraction of traffic.
“It’s right on my doorstep so I just couldn’t not do it. It’s going to be great and will bring more people in the area. And people will come back – no doubt about it,” Neil says.
While Neil predicts that many of the riders will be opting to stay in or around Inverness where the event starts and ends, he believes that other businesses out with the Highland capital can also capitalise on the surge in visitors.
The Lovat is close to one of the toughest endurance tests on the route – the King of the Mountain, a 4.8 mile climb which rises to 380m in height - and the hotel is offering promotional deals for cyclists coming up in advance to check out the route.
Its overnight stay offer includes a hearty Scottish breakfast, packed lunch, two course dinner in the brasserie, with bike storage and even a massage available on request.
Kevin Reid of the Loch Ness and Clansman Hotel on the shores of Loch Ness said the event’s timing was perfect, falling after Easter and before the May Day bank holiday weekend.
He adds, “There’s no doubt the Etape is very good for the area. What happens is participants will book accommodation in Inverness and that will ripple outwards, because of the volume of people taking part.
“Another benefit is people will come up beforehand to have a look at the route. With this in mind the Loch Ness and Clansman Hotel, along with a few other businesses, are doing special offers in February and March.
“I can only see this getting bigger and bigger as long as logistics allow and that is great for putting the area on the map.”
The 106km sportive will take place on closed roads, allowing cyclists to enjoy the spectacular scenery around Loch Ness in a safe, traffic-free environment. Event organiser Caledonian Concepts has been working closely with key partner agencies and local communities to minimise road closures along the route,
Event director Malcolm Sutherland says, “We have worked closely with our partners and local communities over the past six months, listening to their feedback on what we could do to improve the event for both local residents and businesses, and for participants. We believe that the 2015 Etape Loch Ness will be another success story for the Highlands, and help to put the area on the map as a year-round cycling destination.”
The sportive is supported by EventScotland, part of national tourism agency VisitScotland. Chief operating officer Paul Bush OBE says, “Etape Loch Ness is a spectacular event, which builds on the increasing popularity of mass-participation cycling events in the UK. Scotland is the perfect stage for events, and the stunning landscape and scenery will once again offer participants a beautiful yet challenging experience.”
The Etape Loch Ness will start in Inverness city centre, following the northern side of the loch on the A82, passing through Fort Augustus. The route will continue on the southern side of the loch before returning to the Highland capital and the finish line.
The official charity is Macmillan Cancer Support. In 2014, over £60,000 was generated for Macmillan.
For further information and to enter the Etape Loch Ness, visit www.etapelochness.com. Regular updates will appear on social media through Facebook www.facebook.com/etapelochness and Twitter @EtapeLochNess #etapelochness15
To find out more about the unique offers and promotions available to riders, visit http://www.etapelochness.com/your-visit/uniqueness-offers/